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Applied nuclear physics for biomedicine, nuclear security and basic science
Date:6/2/2010

es oxygen and nitrogen as well as carbon when it encounters tissue, and all these excited nuclei instantly emit gamma rays. Here's where the Compton gamma-ray imager comes in.

Playing billiards with light

When photonsparticles of light (including gamma rays)encounter matter, those of lower energy can transfer that energy to electrons and knock them right out of atoms; Einstein described this photoelectric effect in 1905. Higher-energy photons like gamma rays may transfer only part of their energy: like a collision of billiard balls, the electron rebounds in one direction and the reduced-energy photon scatters in another. Often a gamma ray does both, scattering off of one or more electrons before knocking one free and being absorbed. This is Compton scattering, named after physicist Arthur Holly Compton, who proposed it in 1923.

For detecting gamma rays, germanium crystals cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (minus 196 degrees Celsius, or 321 degrees Fahrenheit below zero) are particularly good. Gamma rays can penetrate germanium crystals deeply before the material absorbs them, and dividing the faces of a flat crystal into strips allows each event to be pinpointed on a grid.

CCI-2 uses a sandwich of two double-sided germanium detectors and two silicon detectors. By distinguishing a series of events along the path of each scattered gamma-ray photon, the energy, momentum, and angle of the original gamma ray can be calculated; by combining information from enough photons, an image of the source that emitted the gamma rays can be constructed.

"The trick is to record all the interactions," says Mihailescu. "The basic idea was proposed as long ago as the 1970s, but it's only recently that commercial semiconductor crystals have gotten sensitive enough, and computers powerful enough, to collect and keep track of everything. One of our tasks is to upgrade our electronics so we can improve the count-rate from
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Contact: Paul Preuss
paul_preuss@lbl.gov
510-486-6249
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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